Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A Phone on the Sidewalk

I briefly lost my iphone one day last week. We had been having lunch at a local diner after a community meeting, and on the way home I realized that the phone case attached to my belt was empty. Thinking I must have left it at home before going to eat, I searched all the obvious places  - to no avail. Finally I drove back to the diner, praying to Saint Anthony all the way, knowing I had not used it there but thinking I might have inadvertently put it on the table for some reason. When I got there, as I approached the door, there it was - lying on its side on the sidewalk in front of the door! In an earlier era I would at least have intoned a Te Deum and maybe rung a bell in gratitude! As for why Saint Anthony should be expected to find lost objects I don't know, but if he interceded on my behalf, I was certainly grateful for his merciful compassion!

Of course, a lost phone can be replaced. But in that terrifying interlude when I thought I had lost it for ever, all I could think of was all the information - contacts, my calendar, photos, etc. - that would have been irretrievably lost. not to mention all the time and energy I would have to expend to try to reassemble whatever information I could. It was, indeed, nothing short of terrifying - every bit as bad as the time I thought I had lost my wallet with its precious cargo of identification, credit cards, insurance cards, etc.!  It is certainly a reminder - both salutary and scary - of how dependent one is on such modern things!

Like most modern technologies, the smartphone is neither an unmixed blessing nor an unmitigated evil. I can well remember a time when one could easily find oneself alone - stranded or sick or injured - and unable to seek assistance. That the invention of the cellphone has served to make many aspects of life easier and, indeed, safer, there can be no doubt. And the convenience of being able to communicate - or at least leave messages, be they vice mail, text, or email - is, well, convenient!

That said, the damage done to human society and genuine social interaction by the phone cannot be understated. 

The late 1960s movie, The President's Analyst imagined a plot by the phone company to inject miniature telephones into everyone's bloodstream. Have we in the interim inadvertently done to ourselves something analogously mischievous?

Around 1970 or so, I had a friend who was strongly opposed to the telephone. She acknowledged the safety factor and advocated that everyone be connected in some way to enable emergency calls, but opposed owning a phone for any further purpose. I thought here position extreme at the time - as extreme as the cultural snobs who refused to have a television in their homes. But, as is so often the case with extreme cultural positions, it was rooted in a recognition of a real problem.

Along with phone calls, I rely on my iphone for emails and texts and even for praying my daily Divine Office. That said, making some sort of provision for the safety caveats even my long ago anti-phone friend allowed for, apart of me still wonders whether we all wouldn't be better off at soem basic level of reality, if the modern cell phone had never been invented, had never invaded our lives, had never conquered our culture!

Meanwhile, however, in this world of woe where dependence on one's phone is inevitable, I am glad i found it on the sidewalk. Thank you, Saint Anthony!

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